Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, fear or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. When the worry is because of a planned visit to a dentist, then it is dental anxiety.
Every once in a while, we all get that feeling of anxiety; worry about our exams, health, finances or an impending interview. This sort of anxiousness could be considered as a normal part of life. However when this anxiety becomes chronic, such that it interferes with our normal activities, it becomes a source of concern.
Dental anxiety can be seen as a chronic form of anxiety. In simple terms, it is a fear of the Dentist and of undergoing dental treatments.
If you would rather put up with a toothache or gum disease rather than see the dentist, or you get so anxious whenever you finally decide to see a dentist such that you lose sleep the night before the appointment, or you get so sweaty and anxious in the waiting room, you might be having Dental anxiety.
In children, the feeling of dental anxiety may be considered as fairly common and they are usually easily managed by a combination of non-pharmacological and pharmacological means. However, when it occurs in adults it is usually more deep-seated.
Statistics show that dental anxiety is extremely common and may affect up to 4- 20% of the world’s population, and is more common in females.
Dental anxiety is characterised by the following;
- Extreme tension and uneasiness or having trouble sleeping the night before a dental exam
- Feeling physically sick on the thoughts of going to the Dentist
- Doing anything possible to avoid going to the Dentist
- Getting, nervous, sweaty and breathing heavily while in a dental waiting room.
- Panic or difficulty breathing when objects are placed in your mouth during a dental appointment.
What Causes Dental anxiety?
- Fear of pain. This usually arises from previous bad experiences, most often in childhood. Also, people are afraid of pain because of many horror stories about the Dentist that have been passed down, which are majorly unfounded. Many of these stories may be rooted in History as there was a time when Dentistry was crude and ancient. However, with the advent of anaesthesia, Dentistry has become essentially painless.
- Fear of injections. We all know that one person who would rather take a bucket full of tablets rather than take injections! For Dental procedures that fear becomes heightened for such people as Dental anaesthesia are usually given as injections.
- Fear of anaesthesia. A number of persons find the feeling that occurs after dental anaesthesia; that feeling of a ‘fat lip’ or ‘swollen mouth’ uneasy and would rather not go to the Dentist.
- The feeling of helplessness or loss of control when at the Dental office. many patients feel so helpless, as all they are told to do is open their mouths and treatment is carried out, without them knowing exactly what is being done
- A feeling of embarrassment. While treating patients, Dentists are usually so close, that some feel a sense of embarrassment and invasion of their personal space. They feel embarrassed having to open their mouths for someone to look in as it may not be in a stellar condition.
What can you do to ease your Dental anxiety?
While having Dental anxiety has been found to be quite common, Its management is important, as it has been found that sufferers tend to have very poor oral health because many a time they would rather not see the Dentist until their oral health is completely deteriorated. They have been shown to have more decayed and missing teeth compared to non-sufferers. If you have Dental anxiety, the following will be of help to you.
- Discuss your fears with your Dentist. You can call before the appointment, or discuss just before treatment is commenced. Ideally, your Dentist should acknowledge your fears and not dismiss them. If your fears are constantly dismissed, it might be time to find another dentist!
- Ask questions! Do not be embarrassed or afraid to know exactly what is happening.Knowing what is being done in your mouth and why goes a long way to ease the feeling of anxiety. Feel very free to ask your dentist any questions at all to clarify and ease your fear.
- Work on a signal with your Dentist. Doing this removes the feeling of helplessness or loss of control. It could be you raising your hand whenever you want the Dentist to stop for any reason.
- Distract yourself. This could be in various ways like wearing an eye patch when injections are given, to listening to music or watching Tv while treatment is going on
In some cases, pharmacological means may be used to ease the anxiety before treatment is carried out.
Dental anxiety is usually overcome by the above-mentioned points and rarely require psychological treatment.
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